RNS Daily Digest

c. 1997 Religion News Service U.S. bishops protest detention of priests in Mexico (RNS) Two U.S. Roman Catholic bishops have protested the arrest and detention of two Mexican priests earlier this month, calling the incident indicative of a “pattern of official behavior that could well be described as religious persecution.” In letters to Mexican Ambassador to the United States Jesus Silva-Herzog and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick of Newark, N.J., said the U.S. Catholic Conference (USCC) was deeply concerned over the arrest of two Jesuit priests and their two Indian assistants in Mexico’s troubled southern state of Chiapas. The four men were arrested March 8 and accused of being involved in a violent incident that occurred March 7 in the town of Palenque. McCarrick asserted that the two priests had been in another town when the March 7 violence allegedly occurred. The four were”held incommunicado for over 24 hours”before church officials were allowed to visit them.

NEWS STORY: Constitutional amendment on religious freedom urged

c. 1997 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Okla., announced plans Monday (March 24) to introduce a newly worded amendment to the Constitution he says will protect religious expression in public places, including the nation’s public schools. Istook’s proposed amendment, supported by a consortium of conservative groups including the Christian Coalition, is the latest overture in an ongoing attempt by advocacy groups and several in Congress to legislate on the controversial issue of broadening constitutionally-protected religious expression. Liberal and conservative religious leaders and church-state experts have fallen on different sides of the issue. Additionally, there also has been division in conservative religious circles among supporters of the intent of an amendment as to the appropriate language it should contain.

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c. 1997 Religion News Service Public schools approve clergy broadcasts (RNS) Public school officials in Gary, Ind., have agreed to sell air time on a city high school radio station to a group of ministers who want to broadcast religious programs on the weekends. The station airs news, educational and musical programming during the week, and has been broadcasting sermons since 1996 under an unauthorized agreement between Vernon Williams, then station manager, and the ministers. Superintendent James Hawkins said he had first opposed the plan to allow the seven ministers to air their sermons on the weekends because he thought it appeared to violate the constitutional separation of church and state. But since the school board has agreed to sell the broadcast hours to the ministers following the same guidelines used to rent facilities to community groups, Hawkins has dropped his opposition.

NEWS STORY: Israeli law would restrict Christian missionaries

c. 1997 Religion News Service JERUSALEM _ A legislative attempt to severely regulate missionary activity in Israel has evangelical Christian groups on both sides of the Atlantic working hard to block the bill, which they say could severely impact their ability to function in the Jewish state. As currently written, the bill would prohibit”the possession, printing, copying, distribution, sharing of and importation of advertisements to induce religious conversions.” Not surprisingly, the proposed law has alarmed evangelical Christians involved in proselytizing in Israel. In the United States, evangelical leaders have urged Christians to express opposition to the bill in letters and calls to Israeli and American officials, including President Clinton.

NEWS FEATURE: Churches played key role in bringing Guatemala peace accord

c. 1997 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ Guatemalan rebels are scheduled to begin turning in their weapons Monday (March 24), bringing the unique peacemaking process that helped end the fighting in Central America’s last and longest civil war to a new phase officials and observers hope will bring a lasting peace. As _ and if _ the peace takes hold, much of the credit will belong to the quiet, unheralded, behind-the-scenes actions of world churches. Their role, U.S. government and international officials say, not only made the Guatemala peace possible but could provide a model for other peacemaking efforts. According to Jean Arnault, a United Nations negotiator for the peace process and current director of MINUGUA, the U.N. Mission for the Verification of Human Rights in Guatemala, peace is likely to last because of the “ownership of the peace process by many sectors of the population.” Robert Orr, director of the Office of Global and Multilateral Affairs of the White House National Security Council, said the process in Guatemala is a model for future U.N. missions because it integrates concerns from many sectors of society.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1997 Religion News Service Vatican official calls Buddhism”erotic spirituality” (RNS) The chief custodian of Roman Catholic doctrine has ridiculed the rising appeal of Buddhist practices among Christians, saying the church must do all it can to combat the challenge. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said in an interview with the French news weekly L’Express published Friday (March 21) that”if Buddhism seduces it is because it seems possible to reach the boundless and the bliss without having concrete religious obligations. In that sense it is an erotic spirituality.” Ratzinger reiterated a prediction he said he made years ago: that Buddhism would replace Marxism as the church’s greatest challenge by the year 2000.

COMMENTARY: March Madness is just that

c. 1997 Religion News Service (Andrew M. Greeley is a Roman Catholic priest, best-selling novelist and a sociologist at the University of Chicago National Opinion Research Center. Check out his home page at http://www.agreeley.com or contact him via e-mail at agreel(at)aol.com.) UNDATED _ This March college basketball madness should stop. It is a caricature of sports fairness and, worse, a ruthless exploitation of players. The principal theme of the NCAA tournament is David vs.

NEWS STORY: North, South Korean church leaders issue public call for peace

c. 1997 Religion News Service NEW YORK _ In a rare public agreement, church leaders from North and South Korea have urged their respective governments to”cease hostile policies”and have called on the United States to lift economic sanctions against North Korea. The agreement came during a three-day consultation here hosted by the National Council of Churches (NCC), which brought together representatives from North Korea’s Korean Christians Federation (KCF) and South Korea’s National Council of Churches in Korea.”What is remarkable is that the three parties were able to reach a consensus; that’s a first,”said Victor Hsu, director of the NCC’s office for East Asia and Pacific affairs. In a joint communique issued at the end of the meeting Wednesday (March 19), the three church groups said:”Through churches’ engagement and advocacy, the international community has begun to grapple with the threat of a divided Korea to world peace, and with Korea’s devastating history of conflict and division.” Although the United States officially remains in a technical state of war with North Korea, the church leaders noted that the U.S. government”appears now to be working toward the goal of peace”in the region.”(The Korean War ended with an armistice, not a full-fledged peace agreement).

NEWS FEATURE: Ex-prison chaplain writes of life among felons

c. 1997 Religion News Service UNDATED _ The Rev. George R. Castillo left a comfortable pulpit in Shaker Heights, Ohio, to bring hope to felons _ men the rest of society hopes never to see again. The former pastor of East View United Church of Christ resigned nearly a quarter century ago to become a federal prison chaplain. His wife, Muriel, gave up a job she loved, teaching English at Shaker Heights High School. For awhile, George Castillo said, he thought they had made a mistake.

NEWS STORY: Supreme Court won’t change panel that sparked Muslim protest

c. 1997 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist has rejected a request from American Muslim groups to remove an image of the Prophet Muhammad from a marble frieze in the court’s chamber. Some 16 Muslim organizations had asked for the depiction to be removed from the 64-year-old frieze, a bas-relief that honors persons important to the historical development of the law and which decorates the court chamber’s four walls just below the ceiling. The Muslims said the image was offensive because it countered Islamic injunctions against all forms of idolatry, which includes showing any human likeness of the prophet. But in a letter to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Rehnquist said altering the depiction of Muhammad”would impair the artistic integrity”of the frieze.

EASTER FEATURE: Devotion, scholarship collide along the Via Dolorosa

c. 1997 Religion News Service UNDATED _ Once again this Good Friday (March 28), Jerusalem’s Via Dolorosa will swell with thousands of Christian pilgrims piously retracing the path tradition says Jesus took as he bore the cross on his way to crucifixion at Calvary. Moving in small groups divided by nationality and language, the pilgrims will solemly walk the quarter-mile length of the Via Dolorosa as it winds through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter toward the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Enclosed within the church’s cavernous interior are the last five of the Via Dolorosa’s 14 stops _ the Stations of the Cross _ that mark the events said to have transpired between Jesus’ condemnation by the Roman ruler Pontius Pilate and the burial of his body following the crucifixion.”The Via Dolorosa is a point of identification with the suffering of Jesus,”said Don Rappe, an assistant professor of theology and Bible studies at Mount Mary College in Milwaukee.”It is at the core of the true significance of Easter.” For pilgrims, walking the Via Dolorosa is a highlight of Holy Week _ the days between Palm Sunday and Easter that constitute the most solemn period of the Christian calendar.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1997 Religion News Service Appeals court rejects Cooke’s appeal (RNS) A federal appeals court has turned down former Episcopal Church treasurer Ellen F. Cooke’s appeal of her five-year sentence on charges stemming from the embezzlement of $2.2 million from the denomination. Cooke’s lawyers had asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, sitting in Philadelphia, to erase the sentence imposed by Judge Maryanne Trump Barry of the U.S. District Court in Newark, N.J., on the grounds that Barry went beyond federal sentencing guidelines in giving Cooke five years in prison. The lawyers asked the court to appoint another judge to pronounce a new sentence within the guidelines for the charges _ tax evasion and transporting stolen money across states lines _ to which Cooke pleaded guilty. Under federal sentencing guidelines, Cooke’s transgressions call for a jail sentence of between 30 months and 47 months.

NEWS STORY: Jewish leaders lend support to campaign against Christian persecution

c. 1997 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ Putting aside sometimes deep religious differences, leaders of several influential Jewish advocacy groups Tuesday (March 18) added their voices to the growing grassroots campaign on behalf of persecuted Christians around the world.”Jews have a special feeling based on our own experience,”said Warren Eisenberg, director of the International Council of B’nai B’rith.”We lend ourselves to battles against persecution.” At a meeting in the U.S. Capitol sponsored by the Center for Jewish and Christian Values, religious and political leaders discussed the 30-year campaign for Soviet Jewry and explored how lessons learned from that struggle could be applied on behalf of Christians facing religious repression in numerous countries.”The campaign to save Soviet Jewry is an example of a religious community redirecting American foreign policy on behalf of oppressed co-religionists overseas. Unless the American Christian community launches a similar effort, the plight of persecuted Christians will only worsen,”said Chris Gersten, director of the Washington-based center, a conservative education and advocacy group. For more than a year, evangelical Christians and others have been attempting to mobilize an international outcry against the persecution of Christians around the world.

COMMENTARY: So much said, so little heard

c. 1997 Religion News Service (Tom Ehrich is an Episcopal priest in Winston-Salem, N.C., an author and former Wall Street Journal reporter. E-mail him at journey(at)interpath.com.) UNDATED _ At first, it was Bill Gates’ prediction that caught my eye. The next big technological thrust, said the software king, will be voice-recognition computers turning spoken words into usable bytes. But at the very moment I was reflecting on the flood of verbiage this vision presages, I entered a post office and walked by a young woman scooping piles of mail out of a large P.O. box.